A few years back, okay, it was the nineties, so more than a few, Hillary Clinton wrote a book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us. As I recall, she caught a lot of grief for that one. The phrase, “It takes a village” became the punch line of many a stand-up comedian’s cheap shot. Let’s face it, you can still get mileage out of the line even today. The premise of the book was not to replace the nuclear family with the village, but rather that the two should exist hand-in-hand. Our children’s lives are touched, enriched and, ultimately, changed by those in the community around them. The coaches, the life guard at the local pool, the teachers, the lady at the grocery store, the crossing guard, even the postal carrier influence and help care for the children in the area. The home, the school, the activities and/or the church combine to shape our children.
Moms have villages, too. I am blessed by the network of people around me, especially the strong women, each lending a hand in the business of raising children for fun and profit. (Emotional profit, of course.) I have a lovely husband, whom I adore, but it’s not life in Cinderella’s castle. Eric has a demanding job that he enjoys. It requires a great deal of travel… I repeat, a great deal. I could eliminate about half of the travel, but it would mean moving out of state. He would be home more, however, there would still be travel and long hours. I would leave my extended family in California, something I swore I’d never do, and I’d lose my village. Losing my village would mean starting over, something families do successfully everyday. I tip my hat to each one of them, but then they don’t have my village.
My village IS all that and a bag of chips.
I recently had cause to reevaluate the members of this group, the network of other parents and miscellaneous important people that I rely on to help make raising my children the wonderful and shared experience that it is today. You see, our village just decreased by one. On June 5th, my friend Cara lost her battle with cancer. Or as she said towards the end, she was called home.
In the grand scale of the world’s stage the death of one mom in a quiet suburban neighborhood is effectively like the loss of one flower amongst a meadow in full bloom. Given the larger shadow of our world’s problems, we are faced again with the question, how much does one life matter?
The answer is, as it ever was, it depends upon who is asking the question.
Cara was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. To those who loved and knew her, there can be no greater loss. She leaves behind a loving family, including her husband and three daughters: eleventh, seventh and third grade, a lovely brunette, a doe-eyed blonde and a flaming redhead, respectively. All three are really good girls. They were the apple of Cara’s eye and rightly so.
Cara was always a little on the quieter side, but with a ready smile and a pretty laugh. She was one of those people whose warm brown eyes seemed to hold an eternal twinkle, a sparkle. Our worlds intersected in Girl Scouts, school and soccer. Her middle daughter has shared classes with my son since kindergarten and her youngest is the same age as my youngest, playing soccer and enjoying Scouts together. We moved in similar circles, shared schedules and split carpools. We rolled our eyes at our children’s antics, cheered their efforts and occasionally giggled at the results. As mothers do, we worried, we hoped, we prayed.
At her memorial Saturday, her oldest daughter spoke eloquently, trying to give the gathered crowd a glimpse into the warm, loving presence that had been such a rock in their household. I can add a few brushstrokes to the portrait Abbie sketched out for us.
Cara could build a heck of a campfire. She could get a squirrelly group of thirteen eight-year-olds to listen to her by speaking in a soft voice. She loved being outside, telling me once how the breeze on her cheek always made her feel good. It had possibilities, she said. When I stressed out about meeting details, she told me with a smile, “It’s going to get messy, Erika. Just let it happen.” A couple of years into my daughter’s scout troop there was a schism as to the direction of the troop. It was a minor thing and no hard feelings, more a difference of opinion over tone and priorities. I remember Cara saying, “Girl Scouts is more than crafts in the multi-purpose room.” So, we took the troop outside. We did hikes, learned about nighttime critters and went camping.
I overheard a pastor say after Saturday’s service, “She was always behind the scenes.” He was exactly right. Cara didn’t need to be in control, she didn’t need to get the credit, what she needed, was to help. And she shone when she was helping, oh, how she shone. Her family is a private, quiet family and yet, whenever there is a need, they are always the first to volunteer. My husband will tell you, I know a lot of people, but among the cornucopia of giving people that I am fortunate enough to know, I don’t know anyone more giving, more caring. About five years ago, when I first was getting to know Cara I was unsure as to how to say her name. Was it “Car-ah” like the auto or was it “Care-ah”? My good friend Michelle told me with the faith usually reserved for Santa Claus and Mother Teresa that her name was “Care-ah” because “she cares about us.” I never confused the name again. That pretty much summed it up– pretty much summed Cara up, too.
I know that Cara was a person of great faith and spirituality. She’s gone on to a better place and I would never disrespect her memory by rethinking this or its timing. That being said, I know, had it been her plan and not God’s, she would never have left her beloved husband or her girls. I know, for her, there is another purpose and a higher good. And I also know, she will be very missed by those left behind. In fact, she will be missed every day by many different people in such varied ways because that was the kind of person she was. She affected every part of our community and we were better for her touch. I know that she wouldn’t be as I am now, she wouldn’t be selfish, but I’m just not that good. I can’t help mourning and selfishly missing my friend. I want her back. As a mom I can’t help looking at her wonderful family, her sweet husband and her beautiful daughters: each brave, stoic and heartbroken in turn and wish that I had the power to bring their lodestar back to them. Yet, I cannot.
Cara married a wonderful man. This was one of the things I always loved about her. I love and am proud of my life partner, not everyone is. Let’s face it, people, some of you can barely stand each other. So, it is a relief to meet other couples who cherish one another, who are happy in their chosen partner in life. Cara loved Norbert, no, I mean she REALLY loved him. Kudos to them both for nurturing that; it’s not easy. I know that he will see these beautiful young women through adulthood. Cara’s daughters will be fine because they had Cara and a little Cara is a heck more than most people have to get through this life. And they have their dad who’s a dad who is ON DUTY, I mean he has his eyes on their future.
Yet, here’s the thing, the village can help. I hope that all of us will make a place in our hearts for this family, for these girls. I asked my mom what we could do to help as Cara’s last days came closer and she said, “They won’t need you now, there will be a lot of help. They’ll need you six months from now, a year from now, three years down the line. They’ll need you when people start to forget.”
Because, let’s face it, this family never will. There will be a hole in these daughters’ lives forever. Will they be wonderful people? You bet. Will this event shape every aspect of their lives? You bet. Can we help? You bet. Can we ever fill that hole? No, not even a little bit.
And here’s the thing, it is an impossible task, to fill the emptiness of a mother’s passing. But we do not attempt these tasks in the hopes of completing them. We take on these tasks because they are the things most worthy of doing. We do them because that is what needs to be done, because these girls deserve our very best. Because children need hugs, rides, praise and support. We will champion these girls because they will need second chances, advice on first loves and first heartbreaks. We will do these things because that is what will need doing.
And, why else? “Because I knew your mom.” She’d have done it for me.
My village is decreased by one… and oh, what a difference the one made. Cara, we all miss you already, so very much.